Riley, Jacks in 49th District

GOP candidate makes waves in Dems’ district; Jacks clearly superior on business issues

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It’s been 10 years since a Republican won a legislative election in the 49th District, but The Columbian believes the time is right. We’re endorsing newcomer Craig Riley over four-term Democrat Jim Moeller. But as is often the case with The Columbian, we don’t just favor one party over the other. We’re also endorsing incumbent Democrat Jim Jacks for a second term.

Key to these races are the challengers. For Moeller, that opposition is top-notch. The financial acumen and fiscal pragmatism of Riley, plus Moeller’s reluctance to pursue reform-minded solutions to budget woes, guides our opinion. For Jacks, the opposition is weak, and Jacks’ expertise in business issues makes him clearly superior.

The 49th has been reliably Democratic for a long time. During the past decade, Democrats have won a dozen legislative races. But in 2010, the GOP is building momentum, while incumbents of both parties are worried. In the Aug. 17 primary, Moeller took 53 percent of the votes and Jacks gathered 55 percent, but for eight years Democrats had been raking in more than 60 percent in the 49th’s general elections.

Moeller and Jacks are among the state’s hardest-working legislators. In protecting vital services and programs for vulnerable citizens, Moeller has been tenacious. On the budget, though, he helped lead the charge to foolishly raise taxes at the worst of times, during a recession. He is an unabashed champion of this year’s new taxes on candy, bottled water and soda, all of which could be repealed by voters if Initiative 1107 passes.

The Columbian has consistently endorsed Moeller in the past, and there is no doubting the passion he pours into his work. But as economic times have changed, his devotion to raising revenue and his disregard for taxpayers reveal his disinclination to change with the times. He supports, for example, the proposed state income tax on high-income earners.

Plus, Moeller has never met a foe like Craig Riley. This owner of a benefits advisory business with more than 1,000 clients has a keen insight into health-care issues. “The state must clearly defend itself against unfunded (federal) mandates,” he said. “And we still have the responsibility to take care of the people here in this state who don’t have access.” Riley ran for the Legislature 20 years ago and lost by 3.5 percentage points to Democratic House Speaker Joe King. “In the private sector, we’re seeing high productivity,” he said. “Why not in government?” That means demanding more sacrifices in pay and benefits from state workers and from their unions.

As for Jacks, the soft-spoken yet effective (considering it was his first term) legislator has shown a great capacity to work toward bipartisan solutions. This comes from his 11 years’ experience serving the needs of constituents as he represented local and state office-holders. On business matters, Jacks does his homework. He visited 50 businesses in 50 days and learned, among other lessons, that 94 percent of the business people he contacted support replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge. Jacks supports light rail and tolls, as a necessary evil. His opponent, Bill Cismar, is running as a no-tolls candidate. A former high-tech engineer, he has been unemployed for two years, pursuing an associate’s degree in data network administration at Clark College. Cismar’s website lists no experience in civic issues or events.

Neither of our choices is perfect. Riley is unrealistic in his opposition to tolling a new bridge. Jacks has ties to unions, although he was accorded a 55 score, an “F” grade, in one rating by a public employees union. But the perfect politician does not exist. In these two races, the top choices are clear: Riley and Jacks in the 49th.

Ballots will be mailed Oct. 13.